Taranaki hooker Howie Tamati was a vital component of New Zealand’s international rugby league renaissance, playing the last 19 of his 24 Tests for the Kiwis in succession and featuring prominently in watershed triumphs over Australia and Great Britain during the 1983-85 golden era. Tamati, one of the game’s great servants, later coached the Kiwis in 1992-93 and began a long tenure as NZRL President in 2013.


Tough and skilful, Tamati bridged the gap between the old-school hookers whose fast-striking ability was invaluable when scrums were still a contest and the subsequent evolution of the position, which placed greater importance on slick dummy-half service and attacking vision.


The New Zealand under-19s rep took some time to impose himself on the senior representative scene, but he used a starring role in Central Districts’ success as a springboard to a maiden Test call-up as a 26-year-old to face the 1979 Great Britain tourists.


When Australia visited the following season, Tamati lined up in both Tests and New Zealand Māori’s 10-all draw with the green-and-golds, before embarking on his first tour of Britain and France.


After cementing the Kiwis’ hooker spot during 1982, Tamati played in the drought-breaking upset of Australia in Brisbane in 1983 and had the honour of captaining New Zealand in the one-off Test against Papua New Guinea at Carlaw Park.


“It was a young team (to play against Papua New Guinea) with not many players being brought back from England and Australia, but I was given the opportunity and for me it was just amazing to think that I could be the captain of New Zealand,” Tamati reflects.



He was an engine-room mainstay of the 3-0 cleansweep of the 1984 Lions, in which he was vice-captain, and the iconic series against Australia in 1985, before winding up his international career on the ’85 Kiwis tour of Britain and France.


The Waitara Bears stalwart spent just one club season overseas, joining Wigan for the 1983/84 English winter and playing in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley – a loss to a Widnes team containing his cousin, and long-time Kiwis teammate, Kevin Tamati.



“I used to watch the Challenge Cup final on a black-and-white TV, watching the guards marching around, the band and the footy – I just loved rugby league from when I was a little kid,” Tamati says.


“My dad was a good player and rugby league has always been in my family, so to get to play for New Zealand, and to play New Zealand Māori because that’s the level my dad got to, then to play for Wigan, was a dream.


“I had a family, so for me it was never a plan to go over and stay there, I had a good job in the freezing works and my life was tied up in my town and my club at Waitara. But to take the opportunity to go to England for a few months – off I went on this adventure and it was everything I could’ve hoped for. To actually play the Challenge Cup final with Wigan was a dream come true.”


In a memorable post-script to his playing career, the 33-year-old led New Zealand Universities to victory in the inaugural Student World Cup in 1986. Tamati moved into coaching and a five-season stint in charge of Wellington included historic wins over Auckland (1988) and Great Britain (1990), while he coached the 1991 Junior Kiwis before taking over the New Zealand Test side.


His two seasons at the helm of the Kiwis featured a tied home series against Great Britain in 1992, and a draw against Australia at Mount Smart Stadium during a hard-fought series loss and a challenging tour of Britain and France in 1993.


Reflecting his enormous contribution to the game over several decades, Tamati was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby league in 1994, was named in the Taranaki Rugby League Team of the Century in 2008 and earned NZRL Life Membership in 2009.



“The game owes me nothing – I owe everything I have and everything I’ve been a part of to the game,” Tamati explains.


“It made me who I am. The only thing I’ve tried to go is give back to the game and it keeps doing good things for me.


“I’ve had a dream life through playing sport and being involved in rugby league, I’m very proud of the path I made through rugby league – playing club, provincial and international football, and then coaching at a high level with the Junior Kiwis and Kiwis.


“New Zealand Rugby League initially asked if I would come back and help New Zealand Māori  Rugby League and it’s just connections after connections after connections – it’s been a wonderful journey and I don’t want it to stop, they can put me in a gear bag and bury me!”


Clubs: Waitara Bears, Wigan

Provinces: Taranaki


New Zealand representative:


1979  3 Tests v Great Britain

1980  2 Tests v Australia

1980  1 Test in Great Britain

1980  2 Tests in France

1981  2 Tests v France

1982  2 Tests in Australia

1982  1 Test in Papua New Guinea

1983  2 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1983  1 Test v Papua New Guinea

1984  3 Tests v Great Britain

1985  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1985  2 Tests v Great Britain


Total Test Appearances: 24 matches – 2 tries (6 points)

Total Matches Played: 50 matches – 6 tries (19 points)


New Zealand coach:


1992  1 Test v Papua New Guinea

1992  2 Tests v Great Britain

1993  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1993  1 Test in Wales

1993  3 Tests in Great Britain

1993  1 Test in France


Total Tests Coached: 11 matches (won 4, lost 6, drew 1)

Total Matches Coached: 21 matches (won 12, lost 8, drew 1)




Kiwis captain in 1 Test (1983)

Oceania (1984)

Junior Kiwis coach (1991)

Member of the Order of the British Empire (1994)

Taranaki Team of the Century (2008)

New Zealand Rugby League Life Member (2009)

New Zealand Rugby League president (2013-present)